by Chris Familton
Ducktails is the solo project for Matt Mondanile whose regular music day job is with laid back indie guitar popsters Real Estate. As their profile has grown, so too has the level of attention Ducktails music has received as it has evolved from relatively lo-fi and fragmented beginnings to a fully fledged and comparatively slick form as evidenced by the exceptional new album The Flower Lane.
Side projects are often a chance or excuse for a musician to get self-indulgent with more obscure interests, safe in the knowledge they still have their main band to reach a wider audience. Mondanile may have given that impression on earlier records like Landscapes from 2009 but that was also the point at which an identifiable sound and personality began to emerge. The Flower Lane considers all he has done to date and takes it to a logical conclusion where pop, R&B, kraut, yacht and indie rock all collide in a smooth and synthetic place. It all drifts by like a lightheaded daydream but that doesn’t mean it lacks sonic or melodic substance. There is a gentle and beguiling sense of hidden depth to the album like that weird moment of realisation when you are floating on a boat at sea and you suddenly become aware of the great expanse that lies beneath you. The depth to this album lies in the musical history it has absorbed and reconfigured.
The last album that so effectively dialed into the overexposed and overanalyzed use of nostalgia in contemporary music was Destroyer’s Kaputt and The Flower Lane throws up numerous tangential and connective moments to that record, whether it is the easy listening saxophone on Under Cover or Assistant Director’s burbling funk-lite sounds that were so prominent in the 80s. Another nod to that period of musical history comes with Planet Phrom, a cover of the 1989 song by Peter Gutteridge (Snapper, The Chills). It shows that Mondanile possesses a panoramic view of music from the mainstream to the obscure and finds merit in areas of both extremes.
While guitars jangle through effects pedals that evoke some Johnny Marr flashbacks Ducktails isn’t afraid to let the music stretch and spread its wings on the expansive krautrock psych of International Date Line which ironically comes in at 1:58 just as you begin to get excited about the possibilities of where it might head. Instead of indulging us Mondanile diverts into R&B infused space soul with a Moog solo, processed drums and Stereolab sounding vocals on Letter Of Intent and it works wonderfully, both as a standalone track and in the context of the whole record.
If you had a hankering for anyone from Style Council to Prefab Sprout, Scritti Politti or Felt then this will a record that will remind you of those times and the sonic palettes they dealt in. The Flower Lane is Ducktails’ most immediate and best album that reveals more and more with repeated listens. Its clarity reveals its subtleties and confirms Mondanile as the intelligent and bold songwriter that he has always hinted he might be.
this review was first published on undertheradar.co.nz